How 'Dangerous Dog' Owners Can Avoid Fatal Attacks

Many people consider pit bulls to be one of the most dangerous dog breeds

Dog fatalities can mean prison

As American laws get tougher on dogs that bite, more people are finding themselves unexpectedly behind bars.
As American laws get tougher on dogs that bite, more people are finding themselves unexpectedly behind bars. | Source

Life can change in an instant

San Diego resident Carla Cornelio probably didn't envision a prison sentence when she acquired her two female pit bulls. Yet recently she was sentenced to four years in prison, fined $2,400.00 and ordered to pay restitution to the family of the woman her dogs attacked (who later died as a result of her injuries) in an as yet unnamed amount.

It's safe to say this 21 year-old woman's life will never be the same.

If you are the owner of a so-called "dangerous dog," i.e. American Pit Bull Terrier (or dog of pit bull type), American Staffordshire Terrier, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, Chow Chow, or for that matter, a dog of any breed that has ever shown aggression, you could suddenly find yourself in Carla Cornelio's predicament in several given sequences of events.

Contrary to popular opinion, dogs (even pit bulls) rarely attack without reason. There are usually warning signs, but the owner needs to be able to read them. In addition, there are certain circumstances, that, when present, make dog bites and dog attacks more likely to occur.

Several of the triggers that predispose dogs to bite are outlined below. May the wise "dangerous dog" owner take all necessary precautions to avoid a becoming legally responsible for a fatal dog attack!

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Feed your dog regularly and well

Sometimes in life we get overwhelmed, or life circumstances occur that cause one area or another of our responsibilities to be neglected. When you own a dog with the potential to be a threat, keeping that dog well fed must be elevated in importance to the point that it is never neglected. Ideally the dog will be fed an adequate amount of high quality food at a set time each day (so that he knows what to count on).

Additionally, dogs with bite potential should be fed in a crate or other isolated circumstance. Some dogs are "resource guarders" and food is considered a primary resource. Feeding the dog in a crate provides security, and the dog is less likely to feel threatened by people or pets who walk past while he is eating.

To say to feed your dog regularly might seem to be stating the obvious, but it is worth noting that statistically, a significant number of dog bite fatalities have involved dogs that were abandoned, under-nourished, or downright starving. The dogs that killed Carla Cornelio's neighbor were mal-nourished and believed to be hunting for food.

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Securely confine your dog

When you own a dog the public perceives as potentially dangerous, the importance of confining him securely cannot be emphasized enough. The strongest fencing widely available is chain-link. It is important that it be high enough that the dog will not jump over it. Some dogs will climb a fence, and corners are the easiest place for a dog to climb. Climbers can be discouraged by placing a "ceiling" of chicken wire across the top of the right angle of the corner ... when the dog reaches the top his head hits the "ceiling".

Periodically inspect your dog's enclosure for holes in the wiring, and for weakness, or signs of digging. Look for uneven ground. Escape prone dogs will quickly exploit a perceived weaknesses, and dogs frequently see a dip in the ground as an invitation to dig an exit. Depressions should be filled with dirt, gravel or concrete, and it's not a bad idea to either bury the bottom of the fence in concrete or to stake it down with the longest possible tent stakes at short intervals.

Should the worst occur and your dog escape, these efforts show that you put forth a good faith effort to keep him adequately confined.

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Proper restraint

If you own a dog that has shown aggression in the past, or one that is more than you feel you can control, or one that, when in public, people frequently steer clear of or show fear toward, have him wear a properly fitting basket muzzle when in out and about. These humane muzzles allow a dog to eat, drink and pant without restraint, but prevent him from biting. Should he escape you or attack someone while you are out, the harm he is able to inflict will be minimized, and people will appreciate the measure you have taken to ensure their safety. Properly restraining your dog with a leash and muzzle demonstrates to the world you are taking responsibility for yourself and for your dog.

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Socialize your dog from puppyhood

Dogs are much like children in that the greater number of places, people, and situations they are exposed to with proper support, and the greater the number of skills they learn, the more confident they become in unknown situations. It takes a concerted effort on the part of the breeder and new owner to bring this desired confidence into existence.

Ideally, the dog's breeder will have given it Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) from the third to sixteenth day of its life. ENS is an outgrowth of a dog enrichment methodology originated by the US military and known to the public as the "Super Dog" program. It identifies a specific period of time in which particular stimulation provides optimum results that will benefit the dog for the rest of its life. ENS is widely used by top breeders of exemplary show and performance dogs. From the time the puppies' eyes open, they should be deliberately and systematically exposed to multiple people (ages, races, sexes, ... new and different people all the time), surfaces (grass, wire, gravel, sand, plastic, tile, glassy linoleum, dirt, straw, concrete, carpet, etc.), animals (other dogs of different breeds, cats, birds, farm animals of all sorts, etc.), environments (other homes, cars, stores, outdoor places, etc.), experiences (tunnels, wobble boards, various scents, tastes, toys) and noises (pots and pans, thunderstorms on CD, dog show noises on CD for future performance dogs, etc.).

The importance of a puppy having as wide a variety of experiences as is reasonably possible before its first fear imprint period begins cannot be emphasized enough. This is the "window" in which the quality of the dog's future personality and stability of temperament is made.

It is equally important that the puppy's new owner build upon this foundation by continuing to give the puppy opportunity to develop its social skills in a variety of new places and with new people through puppy classes, visits to public places, etc. at least two or three times per week for at least the first year of the dog's life.


Dog training is fun for dog and handler and beneficial to your dog

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Train your dog

Dog training offers dog owners benefits that reach well beyond the obvious advantages of having a dog that sits, stays, lies down and comes on command. When a dog owner trains his dog, he is also building a relationship.

Karen Delise, founder and Director of Research of the National Canine Research Council and author of The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Poltics Behind Canine Aggression and Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics is the nation's leading expert on dog aggression and dog bites. She has long distinguished between family dogs and what she calls "resident" dogs, which are dogs owned by a family, but who live outside of it, on a chain or in a pen. A resident dog's life is largely spent outside of the family and it is generally under-socialized and not able to read the subtle communication cues that family dogs read with ease.

In a 2001 study by the researchers at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, it was demonstrated that family type dogs tend to seek contact with their owners more frequently than do resident type dogs when being approached by a person. The authors of the study made the conclusion that dogs make "strategic behavioural decisions" based upon the relationship they have with people. The dog that belongs to a family, who is well socialized and skilled in reading verbal and behavioral cues is more likely than a resident dog to defer to the judgment or commands of his owner. The resident dog, lacking this important exposure to humans and the ability to read them accurately, is more likely to take matters into its own hands, or in this case, paws.

Dog training is quality time spent, and the trained dog is much less of a threat than an un-socialized and un-trained dog.

Mothers of nursing puppies tend to be protective and thus more dangerous

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Special circumstances in which to be aware

Is the dog new to you or to the environment?

Few people realize the stress a dog endures when brought into a new environment. MANY dog attacks occur when a person familiar with a particular setting enters, and where a dog unfamiliar with, and new to the environment, is in residence. Special precautions should be taken to confine a dog who is new to his environment when people who are strange to the dog come to visit.

Is the dog a new mother or in season?

As with people, female dogs who are in season or who have recently given birth are "hormonal" and therefore, sometimes unstable. A female dog in season is much more likely to show aggression than one who is not in heat, or who has been surgically altered. A mother dog with nursing puppies is perhaps one of the most formidable opponents on the planet. If a dog owner does not have specific plans for breeding his dog, he or she should give grave consideration to the many benefits (health and otherwise) to having their dog spayed or neutered.

Does the dog feel good?

Again, just as with people, dogs that don't feel good, or who have joint issues and are "ouchy" are more likely to be easily irritated, to snap, bite, or "go off" on the person or animal that they perceive as a threat or irritant. Many dogs have chronic allergy issues and/or joint problems and it should be noted that dogs who don't feel good, whether they be injured, ill, have arthritis, etc. are more likely than other dogs to show aggression to those to whom they are in proximity.

Take extra precautions with infants and the elderly!

The majority of fatal dog attacks involve children and elderly people. If you think about it, it makes sense ... infants, children and old people look different, smell different, sound different and move differently than normal adults. Dogs often see infants as a type of prey. They exude vulnerability and exert no authority. Dogs are hard-wired to take advantage of vulnerability and to respond to authority. It's not a bad policy to simply never leave an infant alone with a dog, period.

Children present another type of challenge. They run, they shriek, and the movement and sound both can elicit a dog's prey drive. Children also tend to do everything "wrong" so far as dog language is concerned. They stare into a dog's eyes, they face it full front on, and they want to reach over the top of a dog's head to pet it (which in dog language is telling the dog, "I'm dominant over you." Some dogs will react to this scenario by saying, "Oh, no you're not!" This must be avoided at all costs.

Children should be educated in reading dog language and in how to behave around dogs. They should also be supervised by adults. While the family's lazy Lab might be perfectly safe around the family's children, the circumstance could be entirely different at a birthday party, or in a neighbor's home.

Guide to Dog Body Language

What is your dog telling you?

Your dog is constantly communicating to you. Do you read him? That is the question.

If you own a dog with "issues" or a dog of a so-called "dangerous breed" it is important you become well versed in dog language.

Your dog is always talking to you. It is up to you to learn what he is saying.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of information available on the Internet, so please, avail yourself of it, and learn to read your dog, and even more importantly, learn what you should be saying back to him.

Dogs are like two year-olds. They want to know where the boundaries lie, and who is in control.

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Breeding and genetics

Temperament is an important factor to take into consideration when making the decision to breed a dog. Others are health related: eyes, hips, elbows, heart, etc. The genetic testing that should be performed before breeding is individual to each breed of dog. A great starting place for people who are contemplating breeding is the AKC's Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). The American Kennel Club will issue a CHIC number, individual to each breed of dog, certifying that any given dog has completed the health testing requirements considered necessary for that breed of dog to be considered worthy, health-wise, to reproduce.

The quality of a dog's overall health is an influencing factor upon his temperament.

Sometimes the best thing ....

Finally, the sad truth is, that for whatever reason, be it poor breeding, neglect, rage syndrome, abuse ... the reason doesn't really matter ... some dogs are too great a liability to let live. As much as we love our dogs, they are not human; they are not created in the image of God as are human beings. God gave Adam authority over all animals. Therefore, humans have the responsibility for caring about the welfare of animals. However, when an animal threatens the life of a human, sometimes the best thing for both the human and the animal is for the animal to be humanely put to sleep.

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Comments 14 comments

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA

Another great read, voted up an useful. If dog owners would follow the tips you posted, there would be less incidents. I'm a big fan of magical management; you can never err on the side of caution.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 3 years ago from US Author

Thanks, alexadry! A vote up from you is high praise indeed!


Lynn Reagan-Hull 3 years ago

Well written Brett, and something EVERY dog owner should read. I own Westies, and have often commented that there is too much aggression in our breed now, as well as owners who don't properly train their cute little white puppies. If these dogs were Rottie sized, they'd be doing some major damage. Any dog can bite -- it's not just the pit bulls or guardian breeds that should be singled out. Your article points out the major causes and things owners need to be aware of.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 3 years ago from US Author

Thanks Lynn ... that's a great point!


DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

I was really saddened reading your first recommendation (feed your dog) but unfortunately it is a very accurate observation. Most of those horrible attacks we hear about are from dogs who just don't know where, or when, their next meals are coming.

If you let a dog starve, are you really "Gods image"? If a dog bites because he is hungry, who should we be "putting down"? Judge not lest ye be judged.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 3 years ago from US Author

It's like the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables ... jail a man for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry younger siblings ... REALLY?


barbat79 profile image

barbat79 3 years ago from Connnecticut

Wow what an article! Great information! There is someone in our area that houses a dog that has already as far I we know, attacked 2 dogs..and they get the dog back after having it live elsewhere for a while. I wish to leave this in that person's mailbox, but I don't dare go near.

Thank you for this great article


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 3 years ago from US Author

Thank you so much for stopping by!


barbat79 profile image

barbat79 3 years ago from Connnecticut

:) my pleasure!


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 2 years ago

Very interesting Hub.

We had a dog from birth on that was a loyal and loving family pet. He was a large Chow Chow, wolf mix. He did not like a single person outside our close family unit. Not even our vet would deal with him unless muzzled, and he received all his shots, and any other vet treatments outside in yard area of the vet's office, as he was seen as too aggressive to be inside the office, even while muzzled. If ever outside our home alone, even though he was fenced, we kept him on two chains. One with a regular collar, the other with a choke collar, unless one of us had him on a leash.

One day he broke both chains and jumped the fence. We got in the car to go get him, and saw him as he stalked a little child at the park. He came from behind and pounced on her shoulders, knocking her down, then biting her. My son got to the dog before he could do any more damage, and grabbed his collar, jerking him away.

It was a horrible thing to witness. Thank goodness the child wasn't seriously injured. But she was terrified, and I felt in my heart if we had not got there in time he would have mauled that poor innocent child.

As soon as we got home, I called the vet and made an appointment for the next day to put him down.

I stayed home from work for two days crying about having to put him down. I loved that dog. The whole family did. But the truth of the matter was, he could not be trusted. He wasn't "defending" his home or family. He was hunting. He was able to get loose, even though we thought we had taken all the needed steps to keep others safe. And we had a false sense of security about him. He was 4 years old.

I still have his tags, and look at his photos from time to time. But I will most probably never own another dangerous breed.

The child's parents didn't file charges against us for what happened, since the injury wasn't severe, and he was put down. The whole situation could have been so much worse on every level. It was an eye opener. It changed my attitude, and my life.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 2 years ago from US Author

Cathi ... my heart goes out to you and you have my acknowledgement of your loss. You are brave to post this, for it is a story many need to hear. I have had two dogs that were biters in my lifetime, but thankfully, in both circumstances, the dogs and circumstances were able to be controlled. My dogs are Australian Shepherds, and when they bite, they go around behind someone and nip their thigh ... whereas a wolf hybrid or German Shepherd would more than likely attack the throat/face. One dog died many years ago and the one I still have I monitor like a hawk and put away before strangers come to visit. She is old and unlikely to escape.

My heart truly goes out to you in your loss, and I salute your acknowledgement that human beings are ultimately more important than dogs, which makes your loss no less. I'm so glad that you yourself did not end up in legal trouble!

Thank you so very much for sharing!


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 2 years ago

Brett Winn, so sorry I referred to this as "another author's Hub" in my fan mail to you. I looked at my notifications, after just waking up from a nap. So silly of me.

This Hub touched me on so many levels, and your reply to my comment is so appreciated.

It is a huge responsibility to own an aggressive dog. I guess we can never really see ahead to every possible scenario... No matter how hard we try. And until we are faced with the difficult decisions, we can only hope for the best.

We now own a happy one year old Shetland Sheepdog, who just loves everyone he meets. He is a wonderful addition to the family, and we are so happy to have him.

We still miss our other dog. We loved him so much. But we all believe we did the right thing, as hard as it was.

Again, thank you so much for your warm, and understanding reply to my comment.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 2 years ago from US Author

Cathi, I grew up with Shelties! My mother bred them and they were the first breed of dog I ever trained ... they will always have a place of fondness in my heart. As for your current Sheltie, who likes to try to escape the lead, I do NOT think a prong collar would likely work well for him. I'm not opposed to prongs at all and use them in obedience to fine tune communications (I put them on the dog's neck inside out, so they're loose, and then can flip them around if I need them and use it in conjunction with a flat buckle collar), but for your guy, I'm guessing he'd do better with a "choose to heel" type method. Put him on a long line (you can make one from light weight cord, and a snap, about twenty feet) and have some really high value treats in your pocket. Attach the handle end of the long line to your belt loop. Put a treat in your left hand and anchor your wrist to your hip (so that it's not waving all around and you have a stationary target) and walk around, watching your dog but pretending not to. When he happens to come up to you and be exactly in the heel position you want, mark his behavior and give him the treat, instantly, and then walk away again in a different direction, ignoring him. When he comes up and gets into position again, again reward him. You don't even have to say anything except to praise him when he gets into position. You make heel position the most wonderful place in the world to be and he gets to make the choice to get there with you. Play this game a few times and it will transition to a shorter leash. You can also play the "with me" game, where you make it his responsibility to pay attention to where you're going. Here, you'd have a much shorter leash, maybe 18 inches or two feet, and you tell him "With me" and start walking around. There are two rules ... one, he can't sniff the ground and two, he can't let the leash get tight. Don't really look at him (don't let him see you looking at him) and just wander around. Every time you feel the leash get tight, change directions. Within a couple of minutes he'll be keeping up with you ... you will have transferred the responsibility to him, and he will accept it gladly. Shelties are smart little dogs! I hope you have a blast with him ... sounds like you're off to a great start!


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 2 years ago

Brett Winn, thanks so much for the tips! And our pup really is very smart. He learns very quickly, both verbal and hand signals. I will try your methods with him for the leash. I want him to realize he can have fun with us while leashed. He's my buddy!

Thanks again!

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